The New York Mets and Philadelphia Phillies will renew their rivalry on Tuesday, as they face each other for the first time in 2014. While the Mets have won their share of games against the Phils, they always seem to come up short in big moments. Will 2014 be the year the Mets exorcise their Philadelphian demons?
The Mets and Phillies weren’t always great rivals, despite their scant geographic distance, and the fact that they’ve always played in the same division. The problem was, they were rarely good at the same time. When the Mets were contenders (1969 and the mid-80s), the Phillies weren’t. When the Phillies were good (1980 and the early-90s), the Mets weren’t. Sometimes they were flat-out awful at the same time. That changed in 2007.
The Mets, won 97 games in 2006 but were eliminated in the NLCS. In doing so, they beat Philadelphia 11 out of 18 times. They were the favorites to win the NL East again the following year. In January of 2007, however, Phillies shortstop Jimmy Rollins declared his team the “team to beat” in the division. The prediction was brash, and came out of nowhere. It was also easy to dismiss for most of the 2007 season.
The Mets held a seven-game lead over Philadelphia with 17 games to go in the season. The Mets then embarked on an historic 5-12 collapse while the Phillies went 13-4, fueled by several late-inning wins against New York. As a result, the Mets blew their division lead on the final day of the season, handing the NL East to the Phils, and missing the playoffs entirely.
Prior to the 2008 season, Mets’ outfielder Carlos Beltran tried to turn the tables on Rollins and the Phillies, as he declared the Mets the “team to beat” in the NL East. The Mets had just traded for ace starting pitcher Johan Santana to bolster their starting rotation. Combined with their potent lineup, Beltran had reason to be confident. This time, the race was closer, but the results were the same. The Mets blew a smaller division lead thanks in part to an injury-ravaged bullpen that claimed the season of closer Billy Wagner. The Phillies won the division again, and went on to win the World Series.
In 2009, the Mets and Phillies looked poised to continue their rivalry until injuries and an aging roster took their toll on the Mets. Over the next few years, the Phillies continued to win while the Mets took up permanent residence in fourth place.
This year, the Mets have a remade roster, young pitching on the rise, and more hope for the immediate future than they’ve had in several years. While no one expects them to be playoff contenders in 2014, they’ve gone 14-11 in April, tempting Mets fans into thinking better days are ahead. The Phillies, meanwhile, are the team that has the aging roster and a fourth place finish in 2013 (just behind the Mets, who finished third). It would seem their best days are behind them, but they still have talented players who may be able to eek out one or two more productive seasons.
The Atlanta Braves and the Washington Nationals are the “teams to beat” in the NL East these days, but beginning Tuesday night, the Mets look to make their rivalry with Philadelphia mean something again. And just maybe they can begin to erase the bad memories that have plagued them since 2007.